[caption id="attachment_18006" align="alignleft" width="800"] Janice Leone, sitting in a "very cool" private work space. Leone purchased Corporate Interiors in 1995.[/caption]
by Sam Waltz
As it prepares to celebrate a dramatic expansion and growth in its open house on April 21, Corporate Interiors is likely doing so in the unique role as Delaware's largest woman-owned business.
That was a title that for years belonged to TCIM Services, and Linda C. Drake, who built her 1987 tele-services startup firm into nearly a $100 million enterprise, which ran as a national provider until she closed it about 3Â½ years ago.
Perhaps the largest until Drake's TCIM firm outgrew hers was Guardian Environmental, a Bear-based environmental remediation and infrastructure construction subcontractor started and grown by Nona Cunane to a $20 million or so firm, parts of which have since been taken over by her adult children.
Corporate Interiors was a 10-year-old company in 1995 built largely around its $4 million in Steelcase franchise sales when Janice Leone found and bought it. She'd been traveling the country as a senior sales and marketing executive for Steelcase, the nation's leader in office furniture, when her entrepreneurial bug trumped the lure of the apparent security of a senior corporate position.
Today, with more than 160 employees, Corporate Interiors records over $50 million annually in revenues, and growing.
No definitive list of privately held woman-owned businesses exists in Delaware, but, if it did, Corporate Interiors and Janice Leone likely would top it.
"I was born in St. Francis Hospital here in Wilmington," said Leone.
"I grew up outside West Chester in the Westtown area, and I graduated West Chester University with a degree in psychology." She joined Nabisco out of college, rising quickly through the ranks, moving nine times in 18 years to an assistant division manager, when she realized she'd "had enough of Corporate America."
Nevertheless, when a headhunter approached her for a position with Steelcase, she remembers asking, "What do they do?" Informed of Steelcase's role in furnishing business workplaces in America, and elsewhere, she signed on.
She credited the role of a mentor in her life, Don Griesdorn, now retired in Naples, Fla., who owned several Steelcase dealerships. "I had the good fortune to have a good mentor. And, he encouraged me when this opportunity came along, and he even backed me to buy it, when I didn't have two dimes to rub together," she recalls.
"I paid it off in 3 years," she recalls with pride.
"Corporate Interiors" has become the branded name for a category of office products and services that succeeded "office furniture" as a category.
It is a customer-focused organization specializing in workplace environments, "by listening to the marketplace and understanding the strategic direction of the clients we serve. We help you plan work environments that adapt to your people as your business changes," said Patrick O'Brian, marketing manager, who joined the interview.
"We offer our clients a broad array of products, literally from the floor to the ceiling and in between. Whether it's flooring, furniture, ergonomics, or lighting needs, we provide product solutions that can span from an office workspace to the boardroom, lobby and home office."
"Our philosophy of that service is to tailor it to our clients' business direction, philosophy and strategy," added Leone.
It celebrates the expansion of its Renewed Environments division, that adds a new showroom and nearly doubles the size and capability of its manufacturing facility at 240 Lisa Drive. From the northbound side of U.S. 13, just beyond the old Clemente's terminal and the Jake's Hamburgers, look for the Corporate Interiors sign and turn right. Building is the last on the right.
"We've added a new showroom and nearly doubled the size and capability of our manufacturing facility," said Jake Leone, general manager and Leone's nephew. "We are celebrating the grand opening of this new state-of-the-art facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4 p.m., followed by a tour of the facility at 5 p.m. and a showcase of innovative new surface materials, hardware and more from Renewed Environments and our partners."
"I hope our visitors will explore the manufacturing facility as we demonstrate the CNC controlled fabrication process, which is utilized in the manufacturing of everything from custom millwork to conference tables. We will also demonstrate our DuPont Corian solid surface production process," he added.
Innovation and being open to change in growing the business are the qualities that Janice Leone credits with the growth of Corporate Interiors. "We enjoyed growth even through the downturn of the economy, through a real strategy of diversification," she added. "We would not have sustained ourselves if we were only a partner to our clients through furniture. Environment is so much more inclusive to other things."
In 2003, she bought and consolidated a Philadelphia-area Steelcase distributor into Corporate Interiors, truly expanding her Greater Philadelphia market footprint into a tri-state company.
Corporate Interiors has three locations - Janice Leone often works from its Conshohocken office, as well as Wilmington - with 140,000 square feet of showroom, warehousing, storage, operational and manufacturing space. Because the company also stores furniture and other materials for its clients, it even has 24-7 closed-circuit video monitoring that allows clients to see what they have in storage.
"The challenge today for us - and others - is that we are supporting four different generations in the workplace," she said. "That creates a spectrum of changing needs. Optimization is the real challenge; how do we create a space that functions?"
Her answer to that is in a design studio for Corporate Interiors' clients that is virtual reality, offering a 3-D look at a design, right down to textures and colors. "We're collaborative with our customers, and, by doing this in "˜real time,' we're saving both them and us money. We're able to try out different colors, configurations, and styles, so that a client can see just about as close as possible how the space really will look when it's finished."
"We also use a process call iteration, which cuts time between revisions. It saves us time and money, and it saves the client time and money. Our cycle time is gone," she added.
"We're a business owner who reinvests," she said. "The whole company has profit sharing, and we have a very structured bonus program for our leadership group."
"Corporate Interiors is the leader in the tri-state area, and that's not ego speaking," Leone said. "The vendor reps and manufacturer reps all tell us we're "˜the best show in town.' "
Business, civic, and organizational leaders interested in attending the open house April 21 should RSVP to O'Brian at POBrian@Corporate-Interiors.com.